#4 Working Upside-Down

When is the boss not the boss?

One recent morning I passed a newly-erected whiteboard on which a diligent member of the HR alliance had created an org chart. Three levels of seniority, from top down: overall boss, then managers, then team.

An hour later I passed the same whiteboard and it seemed that a revolution was underway. The main body of the team now captained the ship, the managers were in the lower-middle, and the overall boss was now the underall boss — moved right to the bottom. The org chart had been turned upside-down.

A passing revolutionary explained: “The boss’s role is to support and enable the team. The team does most of the work. The boss can guide them in what to do, but the team chooses how they do it, because they know a lot more than the boss does about most topics.“

I just googled ‘Swedish revolution’. The top result was ‘a Christian Dance/Dubstep/Worship album’ on Soundcloud. So Google could not help. Vladimir Ilich turned in his glassy grave.

But this workplace revolution really is happening, even if it has so far escaped the Eye of Silicon Sauron.

Empowering teams, devolving authority, and supporting individual ownership are all common themes here — and not just in a handbook or a fast-forgotten training course, but every day in the real world. The ‘how’ is taken very seriously in Sweden. About 70% of discussions are on what to do; the other 30% are on how best to work together to do it.

At first I was surprised. There has not been a revolution in England for almost 400 years.

But this collectively conscious way of working is a huge improvement on the traditional top-down approach, and it suits me very well.

Assuming that I am not first against the wall, I shall report back soon. Viva la revolución!